Life and Death in Shanghai

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Overview

In August 1966 a group of Red Guards ransacked the home of Nien Cheng. Her background made her an obvious target for the fanatics of the Cultural Revolution: educated in London, the widow of an official of Chiang Kaishek's regime, and an employee of Shell Oil, Nien Cheng enjoyed comforts that few of her compatriots could afford. When she refused to confess that any of this made her an enemy of the state, she was placed in solitary confinement, where she would remain for more than six years. Life and Death in ...
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Life and Death in Shanghai

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Overview

In August 1966 a group of Red Guards ransacked the home of Nien Cheng. Her background made her an obvious target for the fanatics of the Cultural Revolution: educated in London, the widow of an official of Chiang Kaishek's regime, and an employee of Shell Oil, Nien Cheng enjoyed comforts that few of her compatriots could afford. When she refused to confess that any of this made her an enemy of the state, she was placed in solitary confinement, where she would remain for more than six years. Life and Death in Shanghai is the powerful story of Nien Cheng's imprisonment, of the deprivation she endured, of her heroic resistance, and of her quest for justice when she was released. It is the story, too, of a country torn apart by the savage fight for power Mao Tse-tung launched in his campaign to topple party moderates. An incisive, rare personal account of a terrifying chapter in twentieth-century history, Life and Death in Shanghai is also an astounding portrait of one woman's courage.

Here is the haunting, inspirational account of Nien Cheng's six-and-a-half years as a political prisoner during Communist China's Cultural Revolution. "A moving affirmation of the capacity for human endurance."--Los Angeles Times.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This gripping account of a woman caught up in the maelstrom of China's Cultural Revolution begins quietly. In 1966, only the merest rumblings of political upheaval disturbed the gracious life of the author, widow of the manager of Shell Petroleum in China. As the rumblings fast became a cataclysm, Cheng found herself a target of the revolution: Red Guards looted her home, literally grinding underfoot her antique porcelain and jade treasures; and she was summarily imprisoned, falsely accused of espionage. Despite harsh privationeven tortureshe refused to confess and was kept in solitary confinement for over six years, suffering deteriorating health and mounting anxiety about the fate of her only child, Meiping. When the political climate softened, and she was released, Cheng learned that her fears were justified: Meiping had been beaten to death when she refused to denounce her mother. The candor and intimacy of this affecting memoir make it addictive reading. Its intelligence, passion and insight assure its place among the distinguished voices of our age proclaiming the ascendancy of the human spirit over tyranny. Cheng is now a U.S. resident. BOMC main selection; author tour. (June 1)
Library Journal
Cheng's widely acclaimed book recounts in compelling specifics her persecution and imprisonment at the hands of Mao Zedong's ``Cultural Revolution'' (1966-1976). Inquisitors accused her of being a ``spy'' and ``imperialist,'' but during the harrowing years of solitary confinement she never gave in, never confessed a lie. We read this, not so much for historical analysis, but, like the literature of the Gulag in Russia, for an example of a humane spirit telling terrible truths honestly, without bitterness or cynicism. Highly recommended. BOMC main selection. Charles W. Hayford, History Dept., Northwestern Univ., Evanston, Ill.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140108705
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/28/1988
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Table of Contents

I The Wind of Revolution
1 Witch-hunt 3
2 Interval before the Storm 37
3 The Red Guards 69
4 House Arrest 96
II The Detention House
5 Solitary Confinement 125
6 Interrogation 145
7 The January Revolution and Military Control 170
8 Party Factions 202
9 Persecution Continued 243
10 My Brother's Confession 277
11 A Kind of Torture 301
12 Release 334
III My Struggle for Justice
13 Where Is Meiping? 357
14 The Search for the Truth 383
15 A Student Who Was Different 410
16 The Death of Mao 444
17 Rehabilitation 479
18 Farewell to Shanghai 504
Epilogue 537
Index 545
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 27 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(16)

4 Star

(6)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011

    One of the best books I ever read!

    This book was given to me to read when I was in tenth grade by a social studies teacher. At the time I was not much of a reader, but I took it with me on spring break and decided to give it a try. I could not put it down. It was such an inspirational story about a situation I had never understood. It remains one of my favorite books of all time. I gave the book back so he could share it with other students. I recently pirchased my own copy of the novel. It holds a special place.in my book collection. I have read it twice more in the 20 years that have passed and still find the narrator and author to be totally inspiring and riveting. Give it a try. If you like historical nonfiction and the will of a person to survive under extremely difficult odds this book may inspire you too.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2006

    An Unforgetable Book

    I read this book many years ago, shortly after it was published. I was actually brought to tears when the red guard was destroying the art pieces in her home and she pleaded with these young people to just take them for themselves instead of destroying them. She told them that this was their culture. China. But they could not understand or appreciate what deserved respect. It was painful and frightening. This book is well written. I could feel the pain from a woman with so much self dicipline. I am buying this book for my grandson who just turned 14.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2004

    An incredible INSPIRING book and definetly worth your time.

    My grandma gave me this life changing book when I was about 14. I read it in a couple of days because I loved it so much. I love reading inspired books and books that change my perspective on life and this is definately one of my favorite! This lady who, even though she wasn't foreign, she was persecuted during the Chinese Revolution. Her courage during a time of major trials and sadness helped me be grateful for what I have. This book is definetly a 'HAVE TO' read book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2002

    A realistic picture of the cultural revolution for those of us on the outside.

    I am an American and have lived in mainland China for the last 2 years. I studied as much as I could about China before I went there. This book helped me to get a picture of what happened during the cultural revolution in a way no history book could. I believe that there are many older people still living in china who could write similiar books but do not dare to do so. Or, as one woman told me, 'it was just too painful' to talk or write about that time. If you want to really understand China's fairly recent past this is a definite book to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2013

    The determination and tenacity of this woman is interesting and inspiring.

    I have found the story of this woman's interment in the Chinese prison system under the Mao Zedong reign tedious at times as it dragged on for years over 485 pages, but inspiring overall. Her determination under severe conditions to refuse to cower to a false charge to make her life easier, is truly inspiring. Few people would be so brave.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012

    Bought but only downloads sample

    Waste of money as just another example.of BN's incompetence in running this site! They need to take a.lesson from Amazon!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    To See What Is Right And Not Do It Is A Want Of Courage Or Principle - Nien Cheng

    "Life and Death in Shanghai" was written by a woman who looks as delicate as a sparrow, has a voice like a distant, tinkling bell, and moves with the light grace of a ballerina. Everything about her is cultured, and spending time with her reminds you of how much the Chinese value "li," politeness. Yet the masters of torture in the Red Guard imprisoned this widow and her teenaged daughter, Mei Peng, for seven years, as Nien was considered "tao feng," the enemy. Why? Because she came from a Mandarin family. When Chairman Mao instigated the Cultural Revolution, he not only bored people to death quoting his quotations, he massacred everyone he didn't consider peasants. Jade carvers, for example, had their hands cut off, as they worked for the upper classes. Nien was in solitary confinement except for a tiny spider. However, one day the spider died, and, in a deeply touching scene, she mourned her only companion. One idea sustained her through an ordeal that killed most or drove them insane: her daughter, Mei Peng. Nien had to stay alive for the day she and Mei Peng would be free again. One day Nien was released, but I won't continue. All I will say is this story is one of the world's great classics, beautifully written in prose as clear as her bell-like voice. The vastness of her intelligence comes through in every sentence, and the huge breadth of her humanity. All people should read this book. - Ann Seymour, author of "I've Always Loved You," a true story of ww2 in the Pacific

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  • Posted May 31, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing account of life in China during the Cultural Revolution

    I grew up with during the 70's, with opinions formed by media propaganda. I never knew how much I didn't know until I read this book. This should be mandatory reading in college and perhaps even in high school.
    Thanks to a woman far more courageous and honest than I ever thought to be for enlightening me. Thank you Nien Cheng.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2005

    Amazing book

    Nien Cheng's account of the occurances in the Cultural Revolution is so vivid that the reader engages in a very realistic journey with her. The events of her life make the reader wish that they would soon be over to relieve her of the pain but it is nonetheless captivating. Every reader should include this to his or her list since it is an inspiring book that will remain with the reader forever.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2003

    Great non-fiction novel for high school students!

    I use this book with my AP Human Geography students as supplemental reading material. My students find Nien Cheng's story gripping, fascinating and unbelievable. It gives so much information about Mao Zedong's China and the harsh treatments some of his people received under his rule. It is a great addition to my class and one that makes my students greatful to live in the U.S.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2002

    General and personal history

    Life and Death in Shanghai is written by and about the life of Nien Cheng, a wealthy Shanghai woman that was attacked and imprisoned during Mao Zedong¿s Cultural Revolution. No prior knowledge of Communist China is required, as the author frequently stops her narrative and briefs the reader with the necessary historical and political information to understand her story. Despite the fact that the author tells the reader about Red Guards (students carrying out the Cultural Revolution) raiding her house and her imprisonment and torture, the book is not emotional at all. Despite it being in the first person, the author writes objectively and concisely¿her thoughts are clear to the reader, but the writing style remains calm and her emotions are rarely given away. This, in a way, parallels her attitude in the story: she made a largely successful effort to remain calm and collected throughout the events in her life. Life and Death in Shanghai is valuable for its account of Maoist China at the height of its zeal. Cheng gives both a personal and historical account of the Red Guards and their activities, painting a clear picture of how they worked as a whole and of a number of typical individual Guard personalities. She discusses the actions of Party officials, struggle meetings, and her imprisonment, and in doing so both tells her story and gives the reader a sense of the workings of China during the Cultural Revolution. Those looking for a gripping, emotional story will not find it here, but those searching for an understanding of Maoist China will thoroughly enjoy this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2002

    One Perspective on Historical Events

    <p>Life and Death in Shanghai combines the history of China¿s Cultural Revolution, spawned by intriguing faction fights within the Chinese Communist Party, and the efforts of one woman to persevere despite attacks on her physical and mental well-being. After becoming a target as a result of her class position and alleged ties with enemies of the Maoists, Nien Cheng faces Red Guards who ransack her home, struggle meetings where she is accused and denounced without evidence, imprisonment, and an uncertainty about the welfare of her daughter. Regardless of your political stance, the story of Cheng¿s life is one of the human spirit overcoming social circumstances. When the historical forces of Communism, Nationalism, and anti-imperialism swept China and culminated in the Communist Revolution of 1949, individuals became mere vehicles for the advancement of history. Nien Cheng survived and, in a sense, won her struggle.</p> <p>This book captures a society through the eyes of an individual, a perspective that is enhanced by Cheng¿s unemotional and effective writing style. The reader perceives and experiences the affects of Maoism through a lens that is clear and not heavily distorted by personal ideological bias. The author presents recollections of events, and the reader is left to judge their meaning. Life and Death in Shanghai may be limited in its scope when read as a single book, but it is an essential component of any larger curriculum

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2002

    Bias

    One must make a distinction that this book was written in the perspective of a *wealthy* woman who is pro-capitalist. Her struggles are just that of a rich woman experiencing the not-so comfortable life of the poor. The intention of the Red Guards and the entire Cultural Revolution was NEVER about ethnic cleansing, but of champling down foreign and capitalist powers that created wide gaps between the rich and the poor. Since many people just loooove reading about the struggles of the wealthy, people can get misguided about the true narratives of history.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2001

    Extraordinary

    This is one of the best books I ever read. It is for example much more informative than a book like 'Wild Swans'. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand communist China yesterday and today.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2001

    An Eye-opening Account

    Life and Death in Shanghai is an eye-opening account of one woman¿s life in China beginning in the 1960¿s through her present life. The book leads you through her travails of life, which give you incite on how corrupt the government was and how people who were accused capitalists were treated. The second part of the book, where the author Nien Cheng gives her first hand account of imprisonment, is the most intriguing part. The Chinese Detention House #1, where Nien spent a good seven years of her life, was the foremost detention house in Shanghai for political prisoners. Nien Cheng¿s study of this government in such a manner, is the closest look one could have at how things were really run in the Chinese government; it shows how hypocritical they really were. She was no longer an outsider and observer to the movement, but one of the people is was against, an insider. The history Nien presents in the story is mostly about the government more and how the capitalist class was effected, then about the peasants, students, or revolts like Tiananmen Square Massacre. Although, the book does address all major movements and events in China at the time. The book highlights the internal struggle within the government, especially with no one ever knowing specifically what to do with Nien, or how they should treat her. Nien shows the truth how the people who acted unkind to all those deemed non-revolutionaries and appeared to be brainwashed working for Mao, did really have feelings and morals. The people stayed kind although they might not have acted like it. While they acted harsh, they could have been scared into this, by what might have happened to them, if they did not act. As Chairman Mao states in the Little Red Book anyone who did not participate in Revolutionary activities, could be deemed a counterrevolutionary. Nien wrote the book easy to read, and her extraordinary account makes your heart reach out to her. She is so brave and courageous for everything she has done and been through. Reading her life story only makes anyone who reads this book think about how easy they have it in life and how grateful they are to live in America or any other nation during this time period.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 1999

    Marvelous account of a political prisoner

    I usually do not read biographies, however, the title struck me and I could hardly put this down once I had started. Ms. Cheng gives a riviting account of her time in china and in prison as a political prisoner. She has a incredible memory and is able to give nearly verbatim accounts of some of the periods she spent in questioning. I brought it home and my father read in within a few evenings, he too thought it a remarkable work, and he is one of the most well read individuals I know, there is hardly a bio he has not read.

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    Posted November 11, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2011

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